Category Archives: Spirituality

Shy about the soul?

From Jemma Jacobs:

I don’t want to be shy about the idea of a soul. This idea of a soul is in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hindusim and many more. I love seeing how un-shy children and teens are to think about and discuss the idea. But the truth is that there is so much that I’m not okay about. I’m not okay about hearing about teenagers in my extended family with anxiety, insecurities, suicidal thoughts. I’m not okay with the research that shows how happiness levels decline in teenage years. My background and experience in secondary teaching, and also in leading a national peer education project for a youth charity, has shown me there is so much positive work being done to support children and young people. At the same time, I am aware of a deep sense that children and young people are not taught how to connect with their breath, their awareness, their hearts and their bodies, and those of others with respect and honouring, slowness and presence. And so, I am founding an interfaith organisation called FancyAChange:Peace to offer children and young people experiences of internal peacefulness, greater self worth and honouring for themselves and others.

I hope that if religion was developed for anything, it was developed to be helpful for people! Or at least, that is my interest in religion. How can it make life more beautiful? How can it be helpful and in service to people - to their hearts, to their happiness, to their sense of peacefulness. I know there is a lot of helpful and poetic information in all religions that can be supportive for people.

When facilitating meditation and awareness sessions for young people, one of my favourite activities is to ask them to notice whether they keep the same thoughts in their head, as they ruffle a zig zag shape through their hair. The truth is that once any of us get deep into a felt experience, the words come later. For many of us on a religious and/or spiritual path, we learn through experience which methods and pathways have given us an experience of peacefulness and know because of that experience that there is such thing as peacefulness and it is possible for us to feel it. I’d like to give as many children and young people as possible a way to find more choiceful awareness about their relationship with their minds and thinking, with their hearts and to tune in and care for their bodies, with a range of take home and memorable methods that work for them. The importance of time for quiet reflection and connection with oneself needs championing. In addition, an experience of this peace is a resource that can be recalled and practised as life continues, and the experience of peace in a community setting is invaluable.

At WCF’s symposium on spirituality, the striking points for me were that a consistent 30% of people across faiths and of none have had spiritual experiences (but often embarrassed to discuss them), that religion can help anchor a spiritual experience and that spirituality is often brought in and valued more at the coal face of life, eg in hospice care or psychiatry, where the focus is on finding what is helpful for people. We know that young people also need help, and that spirituality and meditation can be helpful.

The classroom can become an experimental lab to explore peacefulness. Through a non-dogmatic interfaith lens and accessible and fun activities, pupils can explore ways to experience peacefulness and self-reflection and to discuss their own responses to comforting and beautiful teachings from world religions on the Soul and on peace.

For the benefit of the wider community, bringing the teaching of meditation and self-awareness into the interfaith arena is a beautiful and invaluable opportunity to role model people of faith standing together in peacefulness and kindness in front of young people in their formative years.

So are you shy? Or do you want to talk about the soul with me and how we can offer these experiences to young people.

Blog by Jemma Jacobs
April 2016
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Jemma Jacobs enjoys teaching meditation in schools and also to adults, worked for ten years on a range of exciting national projects at Girlguiding, including peer education, and is a qualified secondary school teacher. In her spare time she can be found walking her doggie and making homemade sweets.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Jenny Kartupleis writes:

For whom the bell tolls

This is a short version of a presentation given by Jenny Kartupelis on 2 February at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, organised by Suffolk Inter Faith Resource.

John Donne wrote in his the Meditation number 17 of 1624:
‘No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.’

Yet in his divine sonnets we also find the despair of a soul feeling itself alone, and Donne captures in his body of work some of the most vexed questions of the human condition: to what extent are we essentially alone and to what extent are we all interconnected in our hopes and suffering?

What binds us and what separates us? Religion comes in for a bad press in this respect, accused of making people more likely to turn inwards, and supposedly responsible for parallel lives that never intersect, but occasionally come into conflict. This, in fact, was the main conclusion of The Cantle Report, published in 2001 after the riots in northern English cities.

Since that time, religion has been in the dock more often than ever, the criminal in respect of hatred, war and terrorism. This is a largely unjust accusation that takes little account of issues such as culture, territorialism, conflicted resources and uncontrolled egomaniacs, all of which generate the conditions for violence.

The secular and public policy reaction to the perceived threats and benefits of religion and faith has been variable, shifting between fear and calls for restraint on the one hand, or praise and overblown expectations on the other.

Much of the current debate is couched in terms of ‘values’: British values, faith values, common values, human values. Yet the more one attempts to define what these values actually are, the more elusive they appear.

Take the example of British values, which since 2013 schools have had a statutory duty to teach. In the handbook of teaching standards they are defined as: ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’.

Many other countries would claim these as their values. Are they important to us because they are unique, or because they should be universal?

What does ‘tolerance of different faiths’ mean? Does tolerance happen in a country that is basically Christian? Or in a multi faith society? Or in a secular state? Secularity need not equate to a decline in religious practice, it may be about the dissociation of religion and public institutions, or it can be taken to mean a variety of worldviews and beliefs existing together where religion is just one option.
Some value systems appear to be created as narratives that give meaning to our common shared life, or draw on mythical pasts. These pasts are often invoked, but not so often rigorously examined for authenticity, and may sometimes be the constructs of authors who in fact were using them to draw contrasts with the brutal realities of their own era.

Values cannot be imposed, they have to be generated from within a group, internalised and normalised. AsTariq Modood has argued, we need to strike a balance between telling a national story, and being involved in writing and re-writing that story, because it is always evolving.

This observation also emerged from the Commission on Religion and Belief report of 2015, ‘Living with Difference’, which called for a ‘national conversation’ including faith leaders to ‘create a shared understanding of the fundamental values underlying public life.’

Values are, therefore, a difficult subject. Invoking them is easy, defining them is hard, yet no-one wants to live in a value-less society. There are so many people searching for ‘something’, described by 59% in terms of something spiritual, to give meaning to life.

Faith values in the context of diversity raise further problems. Reduction to the most basic tenets such as the Golden Rule of treating others as you wish to be treated means acknowledging that these tenets are also espoused by many people who have no faith.

Even if there are basic faith values, seeking to define them runs a risk, that it inadvertently suggests that faiths are ‘all the same really’ and are just a lifestyle choice. This is a convenient construct of secular society, simplifying faith and making it less challenging. We have to be careful not to buy into this secular construct, because coming together with a common voice on particular issues does not mean agreeing that we are ‘all the same’.

Which raises two of the most important questions - how can faiths connect together while recognising their differences? And why should they?
Taking the second question first, that of ‘why?’ Human nature, as Donne observed, pulls us in two directions. On the one hand towards people with whom we share a group identity and commonality, and on the other hand towards making connections with the stranger in whom we see our own humanity, needs and hopes reflected.

Of course groups of commonality can be very positive and nurturing: the family, the place of worship, the school. But group membership can have a darker side, a ‘them and us’ mentality that leads to building walls. Society creates many types of belonging, some where people are held together by internal bonds of love, some with chains of fear.

Tugging us in the other direction is our innate recognition of humanity in others, the recognition of your spirit by my spirit, which is what the greeting ‘Namaste’ means. Following our instincts for empathy and curiosity leads to interfaith dialogue.

The tension created between the conflicting human instincts to turn inwards and to look outwards is writ large in the response to the current refugee crisis. We observe the ebb and flow of opposing feelings, depending on the dominant narrative of the day. One moment this narrative focuses on millions of anonymous people at our borders, creating generalised fear; the next moment a photo of a small dead child on a beach, who could be our own son or grandson, evokes unbearable sorrow and sympathy.

This spiritual pull towards others is the motivation that enables bridging between internally bonded groups, and answers the ‘why’ of interfaith.

What about the ‘how’ of interfaith? How can this innate empathy be harnessed to promote connectedness between religions and beliefs?

The relationships formed in ‘real life’ are not generally ones of conscious pastoral care, of one person giving and another receiving, but of day-to-day, two way interactions that happen naturally in families and other small communities. Interfaith understanding needs to learn from this, and go beyond reciprocity, religious literacy or the Golden Rule if it is to be effective in enhancing individual lives and improving society. It needs to be based on personal relationships of trust and listening that provide the links and incentives to bring together different faith communities and places of worship.

The need for religious literacy is often taken to mean, a requirement to teach what I would call the ‘mechanics’: the dates and practices of festivals, artefacts, famous names and incidents. Such teaching may include an encounter with a person of the faith being studied, but this can be fleeting – an hour or two.

The real need is not just to be informed, it is to relate to the lived experience of different faiths, and this can only happen through individual relationships that are created over time in our neighbourhoods, schools, community centres and places of work. Everyday places, rather than constructed environments, where relationships can evolve and trust can be established, such that the ‘other’ remains different but no longer separate or threatening. These individual encounters create bonds, which the people concerned can then build into bridges between their parallel communities.

The individual benefits of encounter are learning and friendship, the social benefits are a foundation of understanding that prevents or mitigates conflict and promotes working together to tackle community problems.

The full extract from the meditation by Donne reads:
‘No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.’

Jill Segger writes about recognising our humanity in the suffering of others

It is when we are brought face to face with suffering that we most recognise our oneness. In that instinctive response, we are gifted with the truthful moment. And because humankind cannot bear very much reality, the acquired protections may quickly kick in. Most of these begin with 'but...' as we erect our defences of conditionality, of confirmation bias, of prejudice and exclusivity.

If one image above all others brought the terrible reality of the refugee crisis into our comfort zones, it was the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, face down in the sea on a Turkish beach. Of course, the normal adult response to the death of a defenceless child is one of horror and pain. But there was something else operating here. In his red shirt and blue shorts, Aylan was the toddler next door, dressed from the Boden catalogue. The protection of 'otherness' had been stripped away: we were enabled to acknowledge that this was Everychild and that his death had most horribly diminished us all.

How are we to use these openings which are given us when we encounter vulnerability – our own or that of others? It is not easy. The tendency to partisanship runs deep and we are perhaps more
ready to be disturbed or made timid by difference than we are to recognise the essence.

I am a Quaker. So, as most of us will, I turn to the experiences of my own tradition when reaching for understanding. Here are some words from the Epistle of the recent Friends World Committee for Consultation during which Friends from many different countries and strands of Quakerism came together in Peru: “Through listening deeply and tenderly to each other and to God, we reached a place where we can hear and sense where the words come from even when we may not understand the tongue they are spoken in.”

I feel therefore led to try harder to adopt and take for my guide the meaning of Namaste: 'my spirit recognises your spirit.' It is in this radical acknowledgement and in the practice of attention and humility which it surely mandates, that I believe we may learn to look beyond the outward forms which divide us and deep into the true commons of our species. That commonality is the Divine spark which war, selfishness, the machinations of politicians and the lure of short-term gratification can never quite extinguish.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he told us that the pure in spirit will see God.

Jill Segger

Larry Culliford writes following our Spirituality Conference


PROMOTING SPIRITUAL LIFE: an interfaith perspective

4 February 2016

Larry Culliford

The day felt something like déjà vu or time travel. The issues raised and discussed at the symposium were similar to those confronting the executive committee of the ‘Spirituality and Psychiatry’ special interest group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists after its inception in the late 1990’s, beginning with the question, ‘What is spirituality?’ In circumstances where colleagues, patients and their families came from many different world religions and none, we sought to develop a language of spirituality acceptable to all. Rather than worry about Humpty Dumpty’s highly egocentric perspective, the idea of poet Aline Kilmer (quoted in ‘The Week’ on 6th Feb) seems more useful: “Many excellent words are ruined by too definite knowledge of their meaning”.

The SIG Committee’s response led to the publication in 2002 of the original RCP leaflet ‘Spirituality and Mental Health’ – with sections on ‘What is spirituality?, ‘How is spirituality different from religion?’, ‘What is spiritual health care?’, ‘What difference can spirituality make?’, ‘Religious/spiritual assessment’, ‘Spiritual practices’, ‘Spiritual values and skills’, ‘The place of chaplaincy/pastoral care’, ‘Education and research’, ‘About the special interest group’, ’How to start…?’, Further reading, websites and references. (The latest version of the leaflet can be obtained free from the College and is available to download at:

James Woodward, in his opening address, referred to spirituality as ‘an unreliable concept’, to which I respond immediately that it may be better thought of as an aspect of experience (right brain), rather than the product of cognitive function (left brain). This gives rise to ineffability, a problem of description – the right brain not being directly connected to the speech and language centre, which resides in the left brain. However, spiritual experience, far from unreliable, affords trustworthy guidance and is often transformative. A useful phrase to mark this kind of spiritual effect on a person is simply, ‘Something happens’.

Whenever ‘something happens’ in this way, the deeply personal aspect of the individual is communicating (however briefly or imperfectly) with a universal realm or reality, improving awareness of a seamless and sacred connection to the divine, to nature, and to everyone else, to the entirety of humanity – living, deceased or to come.

There are two sets of ideas which I have developed to assist my own clarity of thinking around the topic of spirituality. The first concerns five seamlessly inter-linked dimensions of human experience: physical (matter and energy), biological (life), psychological (thought, emotions, sensations, impulses to speech and action), social (interpersonal relations, group dynamics) and spiritual (an originating principle, creating, linking, shaping the other four – the miracles of existence, life, consciousness and love). All are important. However, religions, for example, have important social as well as spiritual aspects, while personal spirituality is more concerned with the psychological dimension.

The second big set of ideas involves seeing ‘life as a journey, where good and bad experiences can help you to learn, develop and mature’ (quoting from the RCP leaflet). In my books and the free access paper, ‘The Meaning of Life Diagram’, in the Journal for the Study of Spirituality (See: I have comprehensively developed James Fowler’s 1981 ‘Six Stages of Faith’ renaming them Egocentric, Conditioning, Conformist, Individual, Integration and Universal. There are different attitudes and priorities at each stage, which explains more about why disagreements arise (both between and within different faith groups) than do theological or cultural distinctions.

A preoccupation with consensus and uniformity, for example, derives from dualist stage three conformist, ‘Either/Or’, ‘Right/Wrong’, ‘Us/Them’ type thinking. Preference for a more personal level of involvement is consistent with the stage four individual approach, requiring people to take responsibility, thinking and acting for themselves. This is a prerequisite for further spiritual development towards the quieter, homecoming waters of integration stage five and universal stage six wherein kinship with others is no longer a decision but more in the nature of an inner imperative based upon a recognizably shared reality, demanding expression of an innate disposition for compassion. This is where holistic or unitary, inclusive, ‘Both/And’ thinking and experience hold sway, the basis of true wisdom: thought, word and action (also, of course, silence and inaction) for the benefit of all, without discrimination.

People do not like to be thought of as immature, naturally; but the idea does speak of human potential for growth and ripening under fruitful conditions. The most fruitful conditions for spiritual development involve feeling secure, worthy and, especially, loved. There are many pathways to maturity, some enshrined in religious practice, others less well defined. The Royal College leaflet suggests that, ‘a three-part daily routine can be helpful: i) a regular quiet time (for prayer, reflection or meditation); ii) study of religious and/or spiritual material; iii) making supportive friendships with others with similar spiritual and/or religious aims and aspirations’. Seeking out a sympathetic and mature guide, guru or mentor may also be helpful (but caution: Beware of false prophets, spiritual materialism, etc.).

This is where inter-faith dialogue, communication and fraternization can also be of such remarkable benefit. Take, for example, the meetings over three days in 1968 of the Cistercian monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama of Tibet. Merton later wrote, “I felt we had become very good friends… There is a real spiritual bond between us”. His Holiness reciprocated, speaking later of the “profound spirituality and love” in Merton’s eyes.

Love is a key concept in spirituality, breaking down barriers, building bridges of faith, understanding and acceptance. As I see it, spirituality knows no boundaries. Whereas terms like ‘Christian spirituality’, ‘Muslim spirituality’, even ‘Humanist spirituality’, do have meaning, they hark back to stage three, conformist (left brain) thinking, very helpful, but only as a platform for integration into something greater, something universal, something recognizable through intuition, even if beyond the reach of mere words.

This is where – individually and collectively – humanity is headed, according to De Chardin, through personal and social evolution towards the Omega Point. The World Congress of Faiths and Sarum College are undoubtedly playing their part. Faith, hope, patience and perseverance are required; and the continued promotion of spiritual over material values in all corners of society. Words, shared discussion and dialogue, can be important, but so too are silence, stillness, contemplation and prayer. Being and doing; Mary and Martha: both are of value. Clock time (chronos) is less significant in the search for wisdom than God’s time (kairos). As the Book of Proverbs has it: “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (Ch 9: v 6). Alternatively, as the Beatles once advised: “All we need is love”.

Larry Culliford is a retired psychiatrist and author of ‘Love, Healing & Happiness’ (O Books, 2007), ‘The Psychology of Spirituality: an introduction’ (JKP 2011) and ‘Much Ado about Something: a vision of Christian maturity’ (SPCK, 2015). See: Email: